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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Menendez Denies Wrongdoing After Federal Indictment; Congress Hurtles Toward Government Shutdown; Trump Stops At Gun Store Before SC Campaign Rally; Former Trump Aide "Coming Out Of Hiding" For Release Of New Book; WGA Announces Tentative Contract Ending Monthslong Strike. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired September 25, 2023 - 16:00   ET



DON RIDDELL, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: I will say this: Usher has just been confirmed for this season's Super Bowl halftime show. Taylor Swift, famously, has never performed at the game. Maybe if the Chiefs make it again, maybe she'll be tempted to get involved because she might be in the house anyway. What do you think?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: I have to say the pressure of making that catch with your possible girlfriend, next to your mom -- I mean, good for him.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: I just think it's funny that's all anyone asked about, to talk about in the questions.

SCIUTTO: Tom Riddell, thanks so much.

THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER starts right now.

ERICA HILL, CNN HOST: Senator Bob Menendez says there is a good reason he had nearly half a million dollars in cash stuffed in envelopes, in jackets in his home.

THE LEAD starts right now.

A defiant defense. Senator Bob Menendez denies federal charges against him. How he justifies all that money stuffed in envelopes and jackets and close ties with Egyptian officials. But what about those gold bars and a Mercedes-Benz?

Plus, less than a week until a government shutdown. What Speaker Kevin McCarthy just told CNN about his chances of cutting a deal with Democrats and his fellow Republicans threatening to oust him from office if he does?

And Donald Trump back on the trail, playing to his MAGA base at a gun store in South Carolina.


HILL: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Erica Hill, in for Jake Tapper.

We begin with our law and justice lead. A defiant Senator Bob Menendez pushing back today on calls for him to resign.


SEN. BOB MENENDEZ (D-NJ): To those who have rushed to judgment you have done so based on a limited set of facts, framed by the prosecution, to be as salacious as possible.

Instead of waiting for all the facts to be presented, others have rushed to judgment because they see a political opportunity for themselves or those around them.


HILL: The New Jersey Democrat speaking publicly for the first time since he, his wife and three others were indicted last Friday on bribery charges. Menendez is accused of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, gold bars, home mortgage payments, even a Mercedes convertible, in exchange for his influence as a U.S. senator.

Prosecutors say Menendez used that power to benefit himself, others, and even the Egyptian government. It's the second time in 10 years that the senator has been charged with corruption-related offenses.

Today, the senator tried to explain why he says he had so much cash, more than $480,000, stuffed into jackets, envelopes, and also spoke about his connection to officials in Egypt.

CNN's Lauren Fox starts our coverage with more on what Senator Menendez is calling his biggest fight yet.


LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A defiant Senator Bob Menendez, vowing not to resign as he faces down federal corruption charges.

MENENDEZ: I firmly believe that when all the facts are presented, not only will I be exonerated, but I still will be New Jersey's senior senator.

FOX: Menendez facing a barrage of pressure to step aside. Fellow Democratic Senator John Fetterman tweeting, quote, he's entitled to the presumption of innocence but he cannot continue to wield influence over national policy.

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): The situation is quite unfortunate but I do believe it is in the best interests for Senator Menendez to resign in this moment.

FOX: Their calls, Menendez says, are premature, as he offers new explanations rebutting the allegations.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Any New Jersey voters watching right now who may have concerns that, again, you're facing scrutiny over corruption, what is your response to that? MENENDEZ: The response to that is simply that number one, this inquiry

will end up I believe in absolutely nothing.

FOX: In an indictment last week, federal prosecutors allege Menendez received hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes, in the form of cash, gold, and a luxury vehicle, in exchange for the senator's influence. Prosecutors say some of that evidence included DNA, and fingerprints of one of the business contacts Menendez allegedly accepted bribes from.

MENENDEZ: For 30 years, I have withdrawn thousands of dollars in cash from my personal savings account which I have kept for emergencies and because of the history of my family facing confiscation in Cuba. Now this may seem old-fashioned but these were monies drawn from my personal savings account based on the income that I have lawfully derived over those 30 years.

FOX: Menendez now faces a Democratic primary challenge from Representative Andy Kim, one of six members of the New Jersey congressional delegation calling on him to resign.


REP. ANDY KIM (D-NJ): There are a lot of concerns about his integrity, and I think it's important that we do everything we can to restore faith from the American people in their government. So, that's why I'm stepping to run against him.

FOX: Democratic leader Dick Durbin stopped short of calling for resignation.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): This is a very serious charge, there's no question about it. In terms of resignation, it's a decision to be made by Senator Menendez and the people of New Jersey.


FOX (on camera): Senator Menendez is due in court on Wednesday. When he returns to Capitol Hill, however, he will no longer wield the gavel of the Senate foreign relations committee. He is going to be temporarily stepping aside under Senate rules. The committee will now be run by the top Democrat, Ben Cardin, who will fill in while Menendez moves forward with his court proceedings -- Erica.

HILL: Lauren Fox, appreciate it, thank you.

Let's discuss now.

So as we look at what has been laid out in this indictment and what we heard today, Renato, there is a lot of evidence in there -- the cash, the gold bars, the luxury car -- allegations that are, of course, not limited to the senator's actions. Today, though, Senator Menendez addressed only the cash.

You're an attorney. You're a former federal prosecutor. As you look at this, if you were his attorney, how are you feeling about those comments today in terms of what was and what was not addressed?

RENATO MARIOTTI, HOST, "IT'S COMPLICATED" PODCAST: Well, frankly, if representing him, I would prefer he say something at all. I mean, one of the challenges of representing someone in his circumstances is that he's going to feel the need to be out there defending himself, but every word he says ultimately boxes him in and locks him into a defense, ultimately he can't take the standing and say something different or else he's going to be impeached with the statements that he just made.

I think realistically, Erica, this is a very, very challenging set of facts for the senator to explain away. I mean, you also mentioned you didn't talk about the gold bars. Of course, he didn't talk about the Google searches that he -- you know, he made about what to do with the gold bars.

But I think the bigger fault line is going to be at trial, is really you know him trying to distance himself from official actions taken on behalf of the Egyptian government, I actually think -- I mean, the money and the gold bars are kind of priced in. In other words, the jury is going to take that and they're not going to like it. They'll have to have some explanation there, but he's going to have to try to convince the jury that he doesn't -- you know, he wasn't trying to help the Egyptian government. I think it will be hard. I think it's an uphill battle and I think he should be considering a guilty plea.

HILL: Well, when asked about Menendez today, White House press secretary, excuse me, Karine Jean-Pierre called this a serious matter, didn't comment further though.

Kate, how does this complicate things for the White House and also for the president in terms of his re-election bid?

KATE BEDINGFIELD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I'm not sure that it complicates things for his re-election bid because I think actually what you're seeing here is the stark difference between the way Republicans have responded to criminal charges against Donald Trump and the way you are seeing Democrats respond to you, which is to say, you know, some to call on his resignation, some to say the process should play out, the senator is entitled to full treatment from the justice system.

So, I think that what this is actually doing is putting on display the difference between kind of Republicans who are quick to cry weaponization of the justice system, and to deny that anything Donald Trump has done is anything but perfect, and Democrats who you know when faced with serious allegation like this take it seriously and say so.

So I don't think there's going to be a complication for the president's reelect here. Also, remember, Senator Menendez is not a national name. Certainly, he holds an important position in the Senate but, you know, he's not somebody who's a household name across the country. This is not the kind of thing that's going to be all consuming from a narrative and communications perspective. HILL: Scott, we look this, you know, as Kate brought up this idea that

many Republicans have and have been sounding this drumbeat of a weaponization of the Justice Department, do these new charges undermine, undercut that argument?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Oh, great question, I don't know. I mean, I -- I mean, I guess, maybe. I also think Kate is putting as happy a face as possible on whether this complicates things for Democrats. I mean, Joe Biden, Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin, you know what all three have in common? Not a single of them has called for Menendez to step down. And they've been very hands off with this guy right now.

And so, while they're out banging on Donald Trump for all of his legal entanglements, they seem to be worried about being too critical of Menendez. You had a couple of gadflies call on him to resign, but that's about it. So, what he's hearing from his party leadership in my opinion is support. And so, we'll see how it turns out.

You know, Menendez has lived experiences you can get accused of corruption, you can get a hung jury and you get reelected to the United States Senate. And we obviously live in a post-shame society, and so I don't expect him to do anything other than plow straight ahead and see if he can beat it again.

BEDINGFIELD: The idea --

HILL: When it comes to -- go ahead, Kate.

BEDINGFIELD: No, I was just going to say, the idea that we would compare the -- essentially, the crimes that we've seen from Donald Trump over the last two, three years which we've seen on full display to these allegations which, again, are serious and Democrats have said they're serious.


The idea we would compare those two things as if they are comparable in terms of public evidence that we've seen to date, that doesn't quite pass the smell test. But, I do think, again, that what you're seeing is a difference between the way Republicans react, which is in a very sort of protect the team and, you know, willing to go to bat for any transgression that Donald Trump has committed versus the way Democrats are reacting which to say let the justice system do its job.

HILL: Some Democrats are saying that, Kate, but it is important to point out in the state of New Jersey, that's what you were hearing from Democrats. The governor and across multiple, important positions of leadership and law -- pardon me, lawmakers that we're seeing there, they are saying that Menendez should resign.

Do you agree? Should he be considering that at this moment?

BEDINGFIELD: Well, look, obviously that's a decision for him. I think if you take a step back and look at the politics, do I think he should be considering resignation? I do. I think the question for him is does he want to spends the next year plus talking about nothing but this, within his own race, and within the state there in New Jersey.

I'm not sure if I were his political advisor, I would advise him that that's something he wants to do. But obviously ultimately that will be a decision for him.

HILL: I'm just getting word, too that Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown also now calling for that.

Renato, as you look at all of this what this is in that indictment, again, these are allegations but those pictures what we see in that indictment -- do you foresee more damning details when it comes to discovery?

MARIOTTI: I do, I mean, I don't think the prosecutors were pulling any punches. But that said, there's a lot here and it sure, really, looks very difficult for Senator Menendez to overcome. I do appreciate what he's saying that you are only hearing the government's perspective, you know, and it is possible to defeat the government. He discovered that the first time. I've done it in private practice as well.

But, to be very blunt, I don't see lightning striking twice here for Senator Menendez.

HILL: Renato, Scott, Kate, good to have you both with us. Thank you.

MARIOTTI: Thank you.

HILL: Taking a look now at the other side of Capitol Hill at the very latest comments from Speaker Kevin McCarthy. What he just said about threats from his own GOP colleagues to force him out of office if he cuts a deal with Democrats. A deal they don't like.

Plus, how Donald Trump explains President Biden's decision to go to Michigan this week one day before he plans to go.



HILL: Back now with our politics lead and our other big story on Capitol Hill, the looming government shutdown. With fewer than six days for lawmakers to fund the government, there is no clear plan. Hard-line Republicans are unwilling to work with Democrats to pass a short-term spending bill as they dangle a mutiny over Speaker Kevin McCarthy's head.

CNN's Manu Raju is at the Capitol.

So, Manu, even the latest Republican strategy championed by hardliner Matt Gaetz appears to be dead on arrival, certainly dead on arrival in the Senate.

So where do we stands?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. Speaker McCarthy is caught between two things -- trying to keep the government open and trying to keep his job.

It's unclear how either will play out. One on trying to keep the government open. He's still trying to pass a bill along party lines in the House, Republican bill to keep the government open for a short period of time.

But there's a problem, he doesn't have the votes to do that because a number of those hard-line members are simply not there, say they will not be there, and McCarthy can only lose four votes at most if he decides to go along party lines, and include conservative proposals in there. And then there's the warning that if he does cut a deal with Democrats, that could be enough to push him out of the speakership. A number of Republicans on the far right have made that very clear to me and made that clear publicly that they will not accept that.

So, I had the chance to ask Speaker McCarthy this question just moments ago whether or not he is not cutting a deal with Democrats because he's worried if he did that, it would push him out of the speakership.


RAJU: How much of the fact if you do cut a deal with Democrats, there could be a vote to push you out? How much is that driving your decision making right now?

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Nothing drives my decision. If that was driving my decision, would that driven my decision-making 15 times before? My --

RAJU: But you could have cut a deal with Democrats and that could be the end of it.

MCCARTHY: Did I cut a deal then? Did I cut a deal then?

RAJU: When? When for those?

MCCARTHY: I went 15 rounds --

RAJU: No, I'm talking about right now with the CR.

MCCARTHY: But let me -- let me explain something to you. I'm no different than I was then or before. My whole focus, what's in my mind, what drives me is the American people.

I'm not worried if someone makes a motion. I'm not worried if somebody votes no.


RAJU: So as the House Republicans are struggling to move forward, Senate leaders are in talks to try to move their own plan. But even if a bill passes by bipartisan support in the Senate, there's no guarantee that it will get the votes in the House to move ahead. McCarthy will not commit to that.

So just major questions looming over Washington this week, Erica.

HILL: Also looming over Washington, the former president who is weighing in. He's got a pitch. Are lawmakers listening?

RAJU: Yeah, he's basically saying to shut it down. In fact, he said that in his social media post. He said, unless you get everything, shut it down. He said that on social media.

Something that is just not helpful for Kevin McCarthy at this point. In fact, he is arguing the opposite. McCarthy is saying, if you shut it down, that's going to backfire on Republicans politically.

But those members that listen to Donald Trump, especially many of them in that faction that refuses to bend in these spending talks are going to listen to Trump and not McCarthy which is only going to complicate his calculation as McCarthy does a round up the votes, get GOP votes, but at the moment doesn't have them -- Erica.

HILL: Manu Raju at the Capitol, appreciate it, my friend. Thank you.

RAJU: Thank you.

HILL: Joining me now, Colorado Republican Congressman Ken Buck.

Sir, good to have you with us this afternoon.

Picking up where Manu left of there, how much sway does the former president hold over your colleagues at this moment?

REP. KEN BUCK (R-CO): Oh, I don't think he holds any sway. I think that Kevin McCarthy has a problem because he made one promise when he was getting elected speaker that he would hold spending to a $1.47 trillion number. He then went during the debt ceiling negotiations and negotiated with the president a $1.65 trillion number, and now, he is talking to Republicans about a $1.52 trillion number which Democrats have said they won't accept because it's less than the debt ceiling deal.


So you now have three numbers that are floating around the Capitol and it is up to Kevin McCarthy to try to figure out how he's going to get 218 votes to pass something. But the people who are upset and want the lower number are the people who voted for him ultimately after the 15th ballot or during the 15th ballot for his speaker's race. And that's the number that a lot of us are expecting that we will see for continuing resolution and the upcoming budget.

HILL: So you said to my colleague Abby Philip just before the weekend that you didn't believe the government was going to shut down but also pointed out to her that you were staying in Washington over the weekend to work. You say this is on Speaker McCarthy to get it figured out but you were trying to work on it as well.

So, was there any movement over the weekend? BUCK: I think there were a lot of good discussions. I think we have

four appropriations bills that will come to floor. I know I will vote for the rule on those appropriations bill as I did the last time on the Department of Defense appropriations bill.

So I think that passing appropriation bills early this week would be a very good step towards finding some common ground on a continuing resolution. I can tell you that no Republican and no Democrat wants to see government shutdown. We just got to work harder and make sure we get that number right and pass it.

HILL: So you say you will vote yes on the appropriations bill and you're confident there are enough of your colleagues that will follow that?

BUCK: I will vote yes on the procedural rule that puts the four appropriations bills on the floor. I'm not sure I will vote yes on all four. I haven't seen all four yet, but I will certainly vote yes on some of those appropriations bills.

HILL: When we look at what could happen here historically, letting the government shut down is not seen as a winning strategy. It certainly doesn't help to win elections. Just to refresh folks' -- the memory for people at home what it could mean active military members could go without pay, TSA workers, air traffic controllers as well, Border Patrol agents going without pay, thousands of nonessential government workers will be furloughed.

I know you said it's not going to happen but if we look at the timeline, it is not on your side right now. Will it be worth it ultimately?

BUCK: Well, it's never worth it and it's always terrible. But when you talk about active duty military, essential government employees those who are guarding our prisons, those who are guarding this country, those who are actively working criminal cases, those folks are essential and they will not be furloughed. So it's really a fraction of the federal government that may be furloughed during this shutdown.

But it's not worth it. I'm not trying to excuse the behavior. I think that we should have been passing appropriations bills for months now. We should be at a point where we don't need a stopgap measure where we would have passed our 12th appropriations bills by now.

HILL: There are also concerns about for even people who may still get paid people who may not get paid in the moment though if we're talking about back pay. How concerning is that for many people? Look, I think most Americans can understand you still have to go to work but you're not getting that check this week?

BUCK: Well, a lot of people who don't go to work will get a check ultimately because they will get back pay. It is not an ideal situation. We should do everything we can to avoid that situation. I don't disagree with that at all.

But this is something we knew September 30th was coming all year. In fact, for thousands of years it has come after September 29th. It has not changed but now we know that we don't have 12 appropriations bills passed so we've got to do something it's a stopgap measure.

But it can't be more spending. You know, we're spending -- we're going to have $2 trillion of debt. By the time President Biden gets out of his first term, we'll have $36 trillion of debt. You really can't blame the seven people who want to slow down spending from where we are right now.

HILL: All right. We're going to watch for more of these developments in these coming days. These five days and change that are left. You laid out last week as a member of the House Freedom Caucus why you're opposed to this impeachment inquiry into President Biden, noting that the Republican narratives about his wrongdoing are based on myth.

Do any of your colleagues in the Freedom Caucus, did they agree with you in private?

BUCK: You know, I haven't really talked to a lot of folks about impeachment. I think we're so focused right now on the shutdown it's not something that I have had discussions with. I know that many of my Freedom Caucus colleagues have said publicly that they are in favor of an impeachment inquiry.

I have had other members from the Republican conference come up to me and talk to me about how they support my position that the current investigations -- Judiciary, Ways and Means, Oversight, are sufficient at this point. It's not as if I'm saying we shouldn't look into Hunter Biden's activities to see if there's a nexus with Joe Biden. It's just we shouldn't start this impeachment process because the other investigations are sufficient.


HILL: Before I let you go, do you think Speaker McCarthy will weather this?

BUCK: I do. And I mentioned before, I don't think anybody wants this job. It's horrible. You know, herding cats is a very difficult process. And when you got cats with big egos in this building, it's very difficult to do.

HILL: Republican Congressman Ken Buck, appreciate your time this afternoon. Thank you.

BUCK: Thank you.

HILL: So, just who takes a bigger political hit, if a government shutdown actually happens, Republicans or Democrats? That side of the debate. Plus, the ripple effect a shutdown could have for you, the American taxpayer.

That's next.


HILL: In our politics lead, former President Trump is out campaigning in South Carolina today. Before his rally, he stopped by a gun store.

We're back now with our panel.


So, Scott, initially, his campaign had said he bought a gun. Then they had to clarify that the former president did not buy a gun at this stop.

What's the benefit to him here as a candidate? Is it about being a sort of drawing support among the base? Is it pandering? Is it smart move?

Put it in context.

JENNINGS: Well, first of all, I'm glad he didn't buy it because I reckon it would have been illegal for somebody under felony indictment to have done so. So, good move.

HILL: That's one of the questions we had initially.

JENNINGS: Yeah. Number two, well, look, he's still in a Republican primary. Obviously, Second Amendment voters make up a huge pillar of the Republican primary base. So, he's catering to those Republicans.

So, look, I'll just tell you, that -- the inside of that gun store, it looks like the inside of a lot of begun stores I've been inside of in Kentucky. And so, there's a lot of Republicans and conservatives out there that would appreciate seeing a Republican candidate for office go in there.

Now whether this is part of his pivot to the general election, like he has on other issues, I don't know about that. But for Republicans, this was -- this would be absolutely something that they would like to see it.

HILL: As we're seeing that stop, right, for Donald Trump, this, of course, comes on the heels, Kate of President Biden creating the first ever office at the White House for gun violence prevention. Is that an issue that Biden can run on and win on in 2024?

BEDINGFIELD: Oh, I think no question. I think if this is Donald Trump's attempt to begin to pivot to the general on guns, this is a really weird choice because he's underscoring the fact that his Supreme Court, he is giving Democrats an opportunity to remind voters that his Supreme Court relaxed gun restrictions in 2022. It's incredibly unpopular across the country. It's really unpopular with independent voters, with suburban voters, with suburban women in particular.

And it's also, as Scott said, it's a reminder that he's under felony indictment. So, an interesting choice in his part.

But in all seriousness, it is an opportunity for Democrats to drive a hard contrast on this issue that is very motivating to people altogether across the country who are worried about the safety of their kids when they go to school, worried about the safety of their friends and family when they're out in the streets.

So what Donald Trump is doing here is effectively just reminding voters that he is all about unrestricted access to guns, which is a huge difference from where Joe Biden is and is frankly I think will prove to be a losing issue for Republicans as they move into the general election next year.

HILL: We're going to go rapid fire. We have a lot of issues to get to today. So, let's also talk -- let's also talk strike. Let's talk union workers.

President Biden, of course, headed to Michigan tomorrow to join the UAW workers there on the strike line. How vulnerable is that voting bloc, Scott, for Joe Biden?

JENNINGS: I think it's very vulnerable because I think one of the reasons they're on strike is they feel like their paychecks just don't go as far as they used to in Joe Biden's America. If you look at the top issue for voters, it's economy and specifically inflation. They hold Joe Biden accountable for this.

And so, right now, they're out there, look, we don't make enough money to live in this world and live in this economy, while Joe Biden is the president. So, I know he's going to supposedly show solidarity with the workers but I suspect more than a handful are going to have some questions for him about, you know, why is it that on your watch, inflation has gone up to the point where I feel like my paycheck just isn't enough anymore.

HILL: Kate, I'm going to back in a second, but I want to pick up where Scott just left off there because my colleague Matt Eagan has some exclusive reporting. There's a new Bank of America survey that find two in three workers questions that their wages are not keeping up with the cost of inflation. And we know that the president is pushing Bidenomics.

Look, the numbers may actually be good but people don't feel it. Why is this president having such a hard time connecting that?

BEDINGFIELD: Well, it is a challenge. I mean it is the biggest -- probably the single biggest communications challenge that this White House face. Obviously, I left this White House in March. I'm very well familiar with what they are trying to achieve here.

I think, you know, for Joe Biden, he'll go to -- he will go to Michigan, he will give him an opportunity to talk everything about he's doing to push to make people's paychecks go farther. I think part of his -- what he's trying to do from a communications perspective is show that he gets it. That he understands. His aim is to not dismiss or gloss over how people are feeling.

Obviously, as president, he believes that one of the biggest honors that he's given is trying to ensure that people are -- people's lives are better day in and day out. And he's constantly trying to show that he knows that. So, so I think that he will have the opportunity to do that,

obviously, when he goes to the line. And then don't forget, Donald Trump is also going on Wednesday which will give -- will drive a huge contrast between somebody in Donald Trump who says things like well, you know, your union job should just go overseas then you can have a better deal. We'll see if you can negotiate a better deal here in the United States.

He's not somebody who has historically shown that he understands what working people are going through. But I think this fault line, it's going to be -- it's going to be a powerful one. This is going to be one where the contrast I think at the end of the day is going to be good for Joe Biden.

But there's no question that this will be a big piece of where the economic debate is in this campaign.


HILL: He has been talking about -- former President Trump has been talking about his trip to Michigan. Here's a quick bit of what he just recently said.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: So I announce that I'm going to Michigan and then he announced 20 minutes later I'm going to Michigan. That's where the people that run the country told him he has to go, because he's not calling the shots.


HILL: He's not calling the shots in many ways because as the president of the United States he really can't, right? And, Scott, I'm going to bring you in this in one second.

But really quickly just to button this up from your perspective, Kate, is he actually doing enough -- he being Joe Biden to explain why he doesn't call the shots? Because when you hear it coming from the former president, he's -- he says, look, he's not doing enough, there's very little a president can go to ends the strike? Is that also a messaging sort of fail that we're seeing at this point?

BEDINGFIELD: Wait a minute, you're accepting Donald Trump's definition or --

HILL: No, I'm asking you, if --

BEDINGFIELD: -- that Joe Biden is not calling -- is not calling the shots.

HILL: I'm asking you if Joe Biden is doing enough to explain what his role is and can be when it comes to this --

BEDINGFIELD: I can assure you, in that White House, Joe Biden is calling the shots. That I can promise you. So, yes, I think this is again -- I think this is the communications

challenge that he will face over the course of the campaign is to find ways to go out to break through in a time when people aren't spending whole lot of their time reading the news, absorbing information. You have a very limited amount of time to connect with people.

And so, what he has to do is to continue to go out, do things like what he's doing in going to Michigan, showing that he gets it, talking about the ways in which his economic agenda has made things better and crucially, driving the contrast with Trump.

At the end of the day, elections are about choices. And so, driving that contrast with Trump, talking about the ways in which, you know, when Trump was in office, his signature accomplishment was tax cuts for the very wealthiest, which by the way exploded the deficit. And -- so for him to have the opportunity to draw that contrast, that's the most important communications imperative for him.

HILL: Scott, Donald Trump also we were talking about this earlier with Manu Raju. He's saying shut it all down in terms of this looming government shutdown. That is not a winning issue. We are hearing it from Republican lawmakers too who are concerned about it.

How concerned are you about the blowback from a potential government shutdown on Republicans and specifically on Donald Trump?

JENNINGS: Well, look, it depends. I guess we have a three day shutdown no one will care that much. If we have a three month shutdown and real things start to break down out there, I guess -- I guess it would be more of a blight on the Republican Party.

What I'm more concerned about is the party and specifically a handful of people in it don't seem to understand right now that the Biden White House is in the middle of a high-speed come apart. You look at his polling, concerns about his age, inflation, the economy, the border -- I mean, Biden is in real trouble and now, we're shifting the attention back to intraparty warfare for a shutdown in which there's no plan, no end game in mind, no leverage to be had, and no recognition that we're in divided government.

So I kind of wish the Republicans would let -- would let the Democrats continue to do what they're doing without blowing themselves up internally.

HILL: Scott Jennings, Kate Bedingfield, good to see you both. Thank you.

JENNINGS: Thank you.


HILL: So it's a testimony of Cassidy Hutchinson that changed the trajectory of the January 6th Committee. What the former Trump White House aide is saying now about her comments just ahead of her appearance right here on THE LEAD tomorrow.



HILL: In our politics lead, after explosive testimony before the House committee investigating the January 6th insurrection, former Trump White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson largely vanished from public view, but she's now speaking out. This is ahead of the release of her book "Enough". And she's defending her own credibility.


CASSIDY HUTCHINSON, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE AIDE: What would I have to gain by coming forward? It would have been easier for me to continue being complicit and to stay in the comfortable zone of I had some sense of security, semblance of security. I knew people I could easily reach out to for jobs.


HILL: CNN's Sara Murray with me now.

We should point out that Cassidy Hutchinson is sitting down right here on THE LEAD tomorrow with Jake.

We are getting a little sense, though, of how that testimony itself changed her life.

What more is she saying?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. She sort of describes an isolated existence after that about not going out very much, you know, being very concerned about potential threats to her security and to her safety. She even says she didn't go back to her apartment in D.C. and even relocated to Atlanta for a few months.

There were clearly some concerns about potential threats and about her whereabouts, of course, now she has this book coming out. So we're starting to see her out here more publicly doing this TV interview, as you said, about to speak to Jake Tapper, sort of sharing a little bit more about what this experience was like for her, Erica.

HILL: In her interview, she also stands by that testimony that she made before Congress about this altercation between former President Trump and the Secret Service detail. What more is she saying about that?

MURRAY: That's right. I mean, this was really a blockbuster allegation from her testimony describing something she had heard secondhand about how badly Donald Trump wanted to go to the Capitol on January 6th and this altercation he allegedly had with a then Secret Service agent.

Take a listen to what she said during her testimony at the time.


HUTCHINSON: The president reached up towards the front of the vehicle to grab at the steering wheel. Mr. Engel grabbed his arm, said, sir, you need to take your hand off the steering wheel. We're going back to the West Wing, we're not going to the Capitol. Mr. Trump then used his free hand to lunge towards Bobby Engel.


MURRAY: Now, Bobby Engel has said he doesn't recall that instance. Another White House staffer who apparently was the person who told Cassidy Hutchinson the story has also said they don't recall that.

In this CBS interview, Cassidy Hutchinson said she know what she recalls. She said, I stand by when I testified to -- Erica.

HILL: Sara Murray, appreciate it.


Thank you.

MURRAY: Thanks.

HILL: As you can imagine, there's a lot in Cassidy Hutchinson's new book. Jake again is going to sit down with her tomorrow right here on THE LEAD. Be sure to tune in at 4:00 Eastern.

Up next right here, a must see story of resilience. An Air Force veteran badly burned in Afghanistan. Now, he's moment of praise as he uses his situation to inspire others.


HILL: In our national lead, a remarkable inspiring story of one Air Force veteran's sacrifice and resilience. In 2005, doctors gave Israel Del Toro a 15 percent chance of survival after his Humvee rolled over an IED in Afghanistan.


He suffered third degree burns and 80 percent of his body.

He was in a coma for three months and doctors said if -- if he did survive, he would need a respirator to breathe. They also said he would never walk again.

Not only did he defy all odds, he actually went on to receive a Purple Heart.

Jake Tapper recently sat down to speak with Senior Master Sergeant Israel Del Toro Jr. about his most recent accomplishment, his memoir, "A Patriot's Promise: Protecting My Brothers, Fighting For My Life, and Keeping My Word".


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: So, here it is, I have a copyright here. Thank you so much, it's a great read. So when your Humvee ran over the IED in Afghanistan, you write that your life flashed before your eyes. But you also say, quote, they weren't memories recalled, they were moments yet to come.

Explain what you saw.

SENIOR MASTER SGT. ISRAEL DEL TORO, U.S. AIR FORCE (RET.): Yeah, so I saw three distinct images I remember is, you know, me, my wife finally getting married by a church. We tried so many times but every time we tried, it got canceled.

Us honeymooning in Greece. That's where my wife has always gone -- which I still owe her that.

TAPPER: Okay. That's still yet to come, I guess.

DEL TORO: Right. But lastly, was me teaching my boy how to play baseball. I was a ball player. That was always my dream, to teach my son how to play ball. Those are the things that popped in my head.

TAPPER: At the -- at the heart of your memoir is a promise you made to your dying father when you were 12, to take care of your familiarly and keeping that promise required a lot of sacrifice, such as getting a full scholarship to college. How else did that promise change you?

DEL TORO: You know, that promise guided me on a path to where any time I felt like, I can't do this, I would recall that promise and it would get me back on path by speaking and telling people we all have sparks and we can overcome them, either on our own or we need help, by sometimes hearing a story like mine.

TAPPER: So, in the book you write about military families which is a topic you talk about, you say see us at our worst, have the hard conversations and make the most important decisions along with doctors, to amputate or not, to fight infection or fight death, unquote. And you say your wife is your hero. Tell us about that.

DEL TORO: See, you know, my wife, there's this -- 100 pound -- you know, from Mexico, doesn't speak a word of English with a 3-year-old son. And her having to come to the states, take my son to daycare, be by my side every day, at night go and pick up my son from day care, put him to sleep. For her to release when he's asleep, to go in the bathroom and cry because all that pressure was on her. But, man, she was like a 200-pound warrior.

TAPPER: There are a lot of moving sections, but one in particular, you remember seeing your reflection by accident in a hospital mirror and it scared you not -- you were scared about how your son would react.

How has your service and that accident, the IED attack, how has that impacted your relationship with your son?

DEL TORO: I was terrified when I first saw myself. It wasn't a vanity thing. At the time I thought, I'm a 30-year-old man and I think I look like a monster. What's my 3-year-old son going to think?

So, when my son does see me, he's like, dad? I'm like, yeah. He comes up and hugs me. Probably one of the most amazing moments besides seeing him being born, but our bond strengthened. We were always together.

TAPPER: One of the most amazing things is because people may not know this or understand it. You wanted to reenlist in the Air Force.

DEL TORO: I did. When I got hurt, they said my military career was over. I didn't want it to be over. I remember people kept asking me, why do you want to stay in? It's like, you know, Sergeant Del Toro, you become a public speaker, you can make money, you know, a lot of money as a public speaker, a civilian. You know, you get your retirement.

I love to serve my country. I love being in the Air Force. So, when I was able to show that February 2010, that's when I first became 100 percent disabled to reenlist.

TAPPER: Toward the end of the book, you write, quote, my disability doesn't define me. How I choose to live my life is what defines me.

So, looking back on your accomplishments in the military, and in sports, and with your family, and this book, speaking, your motivational speaking, what are you most proud of and what is next for you?

DEL TORO: I think the most proud of that I got to retire when I wanted to in the military, do 22 years after all that grim diagnosis I got and to watch my son grow up and be there with my wife. People always ask, what are you going to be remembered as? I was like, well, I want to be remembered as a good friend, a great teammate, but even a better dad.

TAPPER: It is a remarkable book.


Retired Master Sergeant Israel Del Toro, Issy (ph), thank you so much, for being here. We love having you on.

DEL TORO: Thanks, brother.


HILL: Just ahead here, the specialized U.S. military equipment now in the hands of Ukrainian fighters.


HILL: In our money lead, if only Drew Barrymore and Bill Maher had just waited a few more days before announcing those planned comebacks, the strike ending for the Writers Guild of America. After nearly four months, they agreed to a tentative contract with major studios and streaming services. The strike has cost the industry an estimated $5 billion. Union leaders call the three-year proposal exceptional, saying the deal addresses concerns from its ranks, from movies to TV to artificial intelligence. Critics, though, do warn it may be too early for viewers to celebrate.

Higher costs here for streamers could ultimately make their way down to consumers.

A reminder, if you ever miss an episode of THE LEAD, you can listen to the show wherever you get your podcast.

Our coverage for CNN continues right now with Pamela Brown in "THE SITUATION ROOM".